Brian Clough “the greatest manager England never had”
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Brian Clough, who died 2004 aged 69, was one of Britain’s most effective, charismatic and idiosyncratic football managers; he was often called "the greatest manager England never had".
On two occasions, with Derby County and then with Nottingham Forest, Clough took charge of a down-at-heel Second Division outfit and within a few years had made them League Champions. This achievement, unlikely ever to be matched, was made even more remarkable when he went on to lead Nottingham Forest to successive victories in the European Cup, in 1979 and 1980. The club’s record of 42 games without a loss was beaten only later, by Arsenal. Clough generously conceded: "Arsenal are nothing short of incredible . . . they could have been nearly as good as us."
Clough’s successes were said to have been fuelled by the disappointment of a cruelly curtailed playing career. On Boxing Day, 1962, a day many thought too icy for football, Clough was playing for Sunderland against Bury at Roker Park. A determined and goal-hungry centre-forward, he latched on to a loose ball in the opposition penalty area, eager to add to the 30-odd goals he had scored that season. With a fearful crunch his knee crashed against the shoulder of the onrushing goalkeeper. Clough was stretchered off with torn cruciate ligaments.
He attempted a come-back 18 months later but only played three more games. At the age of 29 his football-playing life was over.
Clough would later describe himself as "the finest goal-scorer in the country and one of the best the game has ever seen" and the claim has some statistical basis. The speed with which he reached his 204 league goals (in only 222 appearances) has never been surpassed.
He could scarcely believe that such goal-scoring prowess did not make him an automatic choice for the England team. He won a mere two caps and under-performed both times. In competition with such stars as Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves for the centre-forward berth, and already prone to the loquacity which could both charm and alienate, it was not certain that he would have ever have won a regular spot. Clough, though, was of the opinion that a glittering career in an England shirt had been snatched from his grasp by fate.
Peter Taylor, his assistant in all his greatest managerial triumphs, reckoned that "mental pain" was Clough’s "driving force".
Brian Howard Clough was born at Middlesbrough on March 21 1935, the sixth of nine children. He was educated at Marton Grove Secondary School and joined his local football team as an amateur in 1951. He signed professional forms in 1952, aged 17, and then went on to do his National Service in the RAF. He enjoyed the uniform but was disgusted not to be chosen for the RAF national football team.
Clough returned to Middlesbrough but took some time to break into the first team. He felt that he only got the recognition he deserved when Peter Taylor, then a goalkeeper, was transferred from Coventry.
Taylor ensured that Clough’s self-belief continued to burn brightly and they spent all available time together discussing football.
Clough eventually made his first team debut in 1955. He was transferred to Sunderland for £45,000 in 1961.
Following his retirement as a player, and a period of desperation, Clough became the youth coach at Sunderland, a role he found surprisingly fulfilling. The job was short-lived but in 1965 Clough was offered the managership of Hartlepools United in the Fourth Division. At the age of 29 he became the youngest manager in the Football League.
His first move was to go behind the chairman’s back and enlist Peter Taylor, who had been managing non-league Burton Albion, as his assistant. Clough’s managerial style had been learned from his Sunderland manager, Alan Brown, who, Clough said "detested shabby appearance, unkempt hair. I always insisted that my players looked smart. He wouldn’t stand any nonsense on the field, no arguing with the referee. Nor would I . . . Most of all he taught me that a football club manager is boss".
Clough and Taylor took Hartlepools to eighth in the Fourth Division but soon determined to try for better things. They took over at Derby County, which had just finished 17th in the Second Division, in June 1967.
They disbanded the demoralised team and rebuilt the squad by signing such players as the centre-half Roy McFarland from Tranmere and bringing John McGovern down from Hartlepools. In their first season Derby finished 18th but the next year, after daringly securing the signature of Dave McKay from Spurs, whose confidence spread to all members of the side, they were champions. Promoted, Derby finished fourth in their first season in the top flight and, having signed Archie Gemmill and Colin Todd, were champions the following year.
Clough was becoming increasingly well-known, making numerous television appearances as a soccer pundit. His high profile began to create unease among the Derby board of directors. Questions began to be asked about the role of Taylor; it was largely unspecified but, as far as Clough was concerned, absolutely crucial: "I’m not equipped to manage successfully without Peter Taylor," he said, "I am the shop window and he is the goods in the back."
Piqued, Clough and Taylor resigned. An almighty kerfuffle ensued with the players threatening to strike and almost the whole town demanding their reinstatement.
Clough then took control of Third Division Brighton for an unhappy eight months, most notable for a 4-0 drubbing by non-League Walton and Hersham, and an 8-2 roasting by Bristol Rovers. During this period he was given the chance to manage the Iranian national team but despite the offer of a fabulous salary from the Shah’s Master of the Horse, turned it down.
Clough was next surprised, in the summer of l974, to be offered the manager’s job at Leeds United, whose style of play and previous manager, Don Revie, he had often criticised. The Leeds chairman told him that he wanted a manager for whom players were prepared to go on strike, as the Derby players all but had. Taylor, who had gone with Clough to Brighton, stayed on as manager of the Seagulls.
Clough’s opening speech to his new squad of players, champions the previous season, was: "Gentlemen, the first thing you can do for me is throw your medals and your pots and pans in the dustbin because you’ve never won anything fairly. You’ve done it by cheating." The relationship never recovered and, after 44 days, Clough was sacked for reasons of "player unrest". He was handsomely compensated, so that when he returned to management in January 1975, with Nottingham Forest, he felt even more confident about his style; financially secure, he had no more fear of the sack.
Clough immediately recruited Taylor from Brighton. At Forest they inherited a lacklustre squad, resigned to mediocrity. Their subsequent achievements were all the more remarkable considering that the backbone of that triumphant team comprised players already at Forest when they arrived. Probably Clough’s greatest asset as a manager was his ability to coax players, sure of their own mediocrity, to greatness.
According to John Robertson, who was transformed by Clough from an overweight slacker into an established international and the most important play-maker in the Forest side, Clough "never missed a trick. Every piece of advice he gave me was spot on . . . It helped that I was in awe of him . . . for three or four years, I couldn’t wait for Saturdays . . . I wanted to play for him."
Humour and imaginative motivational ploys were typical of the Clough/Taylor management style. The week before the 1980 European Cup Final, when Forest defeated Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg with a John Robertson goal, Clough and Taylor took the squad to Majorca and told them to concentrate on the sunshine and the beer. This unusual concentration on creating a relaxed mood paid frequent dividends.
Forest were promoted in 1977 and were League Champions the next season playing a simple, quick-passing game which was a joy to watch. With European football came a more defensive approach but a Clough team was never boring; he eschewed the long-ball game because, "If the game was meant to be played in the air, He would have put grass in the sky".
Clough’s greatest disappointment was to have been twice passed over for the job of England manager when, both times, he would have been the popular choice. Even in 1990, when Graham Taylor was appointed, a large section of the football public wanted Clough. When Ron Greenwood was appointed in 1977 the committee attempted to placate Clough by making him manager of the England youth team; he undertook the task half-heartedly.
In 1987 a poll was conducted among England’s leading club managers asking whether Clough should at some stage have been the England manager. Seventy-nine per cent thought he should.
His last chance of international involvement came in 1987 when it was proposed that he become the manager of Wales on a part-time basis; the Nottingham Forest directors refused to let him split his loyalties.
The celebrated partnership with Taylor came to an end in 1982 when Taylor apparently retired. When Taylor, 18 months later, became the manager of Derby and then, according to Clough, behaved in an underhand fashion over the transfer of a player, the relationship became terminally acrimonious. They were still not on speaking terms when Taylor died in 1990.
Clough was never so successful without Taylor, although his Forest team did win the League Cup in 1989 and 1990. The latter victory was slightly overshadowed by the £5,000 fine Clough received for having punched some rowdy supporters after the quarter-final. The blows were witnessed by television, as were the kisses Clough subsequently planted on the cheeks of his victims. He was a noted kisser.
In 1991 Forest reached the FA Cup final against Spurs when Paul Gascoigne’s knee injury (the same sort as suffered by the young Clough) seemed to galvanise his team-mates to greater efforts. Forest lost in extra-time.
It was Clough’s greatest regret in his later years that he did not retire on the day of that defeat. He retired two years later when Forest were already condemned to relegation and his eccentric ways had come to seem more of a liability than an inspiration.
The challenge of his retirement Clough considered to be the controlling of his drinking habits, which had led to some strange moments and explanations. Being found asleep once, in a ditch, he said, was the result of having felt tired mid-ramble. He acknowledged his alcoholism after collapsing and being taken to a clinic at the end of 1996; in his autobiography Walking on Water (2002) he admitted: "I was spending time drinking when I should have been doing other things. It was bound to take over. If you do something to excess, something has to suffer somewhere." In January last year, he had a liver transplant, after doctors warned him that he had no more than two months to live.
After his retirement there were various rumours of Clough having received illegal payments, hotly denied: "Asking me what it’s like to make money out of transfers is like asking ‘What’s it like to have VD?’ I don’t know, I’ve never had it."
Clough was appointed OBE in 1991. He said that the letters must stand for "Old Big ‘Ead". In 1993 Clough was granted the Freedom of the City of Nottingham (which also named a tram after him), and commented: "It’s a beautiful city with lovely people. I’m particularly fond of the River Trent – blow me, I’ve been walking on it for the last 18 years." He kept the scroll on top of "my dear Mam’s mangle" in the dining room of his Derby mansion; he felt that the juxtaposed objects summed up his life.
Clough was a life-long Socialist whom the Labour party twice tried to persuade to be a parliamentary candidate. He refused but later effectively campaigned for the Derby MP, Phillip Whitehead. Michael Foot, his favourite politician, said of him: "He always had a strong political sense and a keen understanding of socialist principles . . . The rank and file Labour supporter loves him. He is one of them. If people would only listen to him more carefully, they’d deal with hooliganism much better than they do." Clough was a vigorous opponent of the football identity card scheme.
Brian Clough was a devoted family man and once observed, "I’ve tasted most things but if there’s owt better than family life, let me know". Despite his liver problems, it was stomach cancer which was cited as the cause of his death yesterday.
He married, in 1959, Barbara Glasgow. They had two sons and a daughter. The younger son, Nigel, was a professional footballer. He subsequently had spells with Liverpool, Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday before moving into non league football at the age of 32 when he became player manager with Southern Football League Premier Division side Burton Albion in 1998. Over the next decade, during half of which he continued to play a regular role on the field, Clough took Burton up from the seventh tier of the English football league system to the brink of promotion to League Two before leaving halfway through the 2008–09 season to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over at Derby County, where he served for four years until September 2013. He would go on to resurrect Sheffield United’s season, pulling them out of the relegation zone and taking them to an FA Cup semi-final.